Will the 2015 Holiday Season Be the ‘Year of Mobile’?

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When it comes to holiday shopping, brick-and-mortar stores continue to dominate, accounting for more than 80 percent of all sales. However, every year, online sales continue to grow, with Cyber Monday continuing to hold its position as the busiest online shopping day of the year.

In fact, given how much online sales have grown in recent years, some experts predict that it’s only a matter of time before online holiday sales overtake bricks-and-mortar sales. And one major contributor to that growth? Mobile shopping.

Mobile: The New Frontier of Shopping

Historically, shoppers haven’t exactly embraced their mobile devices as a tool for shopping. Experts suspect that this is due to several reasons. For starters, the small screens on most smartphones aren’t exactly convenient for evaluating and comparing items — especially when shopping sites aren’t optimized for mobile and force customers to scroll and tap excessively just to see the product details. Security is also a major concern; many customers simply don’t feel safe entering payment information on a mobile device, especially when they are using a company credit card to make purchases for work.

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That being said, 2014 saw a significant rise in the number of smartphone visits to retail sites: The number of people who visited retailer mobile sites between Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2014 increased by more than 50 percent over 2013. Even mega-retailers like Amazon and Walmart saw major increases in their mobile traffic.

With that in mind, experts estimate that the amount of traffic from mobile will continue to increase in 2015. Mobile sales also increased in 2014, with IBM reporting that about 22 percent of all online sales during the holiday season were made via mobile devices. However, that was significantly less than Practical eCommerce’s prediction of 33 percent of sales, and as a result, editor Armando Roggio is more conservative with his estimate this year, predicting that 25 percent of online sales will come from mobile.

Marketing firm BloomReach is also optimistic about the potential for mobile sales in 2015, estimating that for some retailers, revenue from mobile sales could increase by more than 100 percent this year. Perhaps most surprising, though, is when mobile sales are taking place. According to IBM, Thanksgiving Day saw the highest amount of online traffic coming from mobile of any day in the shopping season. Experts attribute this to the fact that most people are away from their desks on Thanksgiving, and thus not using their computers, in addition to retailers offering Thanksgiving Day specials to attract shoppers before the Black Friday rush.

Why the Increase in Mobile Shopping?

The increase in Thanksgiving shoppers is easily explained, but what is driving the increase in mobile shopping over previous years? Several factors.

  1. More smartphones. It might seem like everyone and their grandmother has a smartphone, but the number of new smartphone owners continues to increase — and more of them are using their phones to shop. The number of active smartphone users is estimated to surpass 2 billion figure by the end of 2015. Studies suggest that as many as 20 million people who have never used their phones to shop will do so for the first time this year.
  2. Bigger smartphones. Smartphone screens are getting larger, with the iPhone 6 Plus and iPhone 6S Plus offering a screen that’s over 5.5″ tall. It’s simply easier to shop on these devices.
  3. More responsive design. Retailers are beginning to understand that in order to capture mobile customers, you must have a mobile optimized site. What works on a computer screen doesn’t always work on mobile, so retailers that want to be competitive are putting in the time to create sites that will work with mobile and entice shoppers to buy. However, this is one area in which the “big guys” have a distinct advantage, as recent surveys indicate that 90 percent of small businesses are not yet optimized for mobile. A recent Google algorithm change that accounts for mobile responsiveness in search engine results pages is spurring more small businesses to catch up, though, which will only increase the number of responsive sites.
  4. More secure shopping. Consumers and retailers alike are beginning to understand what makes a secure shopping experience, and customers feel more secure making payments on their phone.
  5. Better mobile/in-person integration. While the number of actual mobile purchases last year was lower than expected, that didn’t mean mobile didn’t play a role in bricks-and-mortar purchases. Not only do consumers use their devices to look up information about potential purchases, but many retailers used mobile to incentivize buyers. Offering coupons via app, sending beacons to subscribers with personalized offers when they were in the store, and offering price matches to online retailers (which shoppers can display on their phones) are all expected to continue this year as retailers look for ways to get consumers to buy — and buy more. In one survey, 73 percent of shoppers said that beacon messages increased their likelihood of making a purchase right away, and 61 percent said that the messages make them visit the store more often.

So will 2015 be the year that mobile shopping finally takes off? While it will undoubtedly trail behind brick-and-mortar shopping, there is reason to believe that it will form a more significant portion of online sales than ever before. The retailers that are able to most effectively leverage their mobile efforts, combining the best of on and offline shopping experiences will probably see the greatest increases this holiday season.

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